Earlier this week, Colman Domingo was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the titular civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in Rustin. The nomination, which is Colman's first, is historic for another reason: it's only the second time that an openly gay actor has been nominated for portraying a gay character.
Ian McKellen was the first, as he was nominated for his role in the movie Gods and Monsters in 1999. Screenwriter Bill Condon told Vanity Fair that Ian read out what would have been his acceptance speech during an ad break, which was dedicated to young gay actors: “It was about all the warnings he received when he was deciding to come out, all the things that would happen.”
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter about his nomination for the Obama-produced Netflix film, Colman said that he was "walking around, pacing" in his bathroom when he got a text from his manager calling him an Oscar nominee. "This is literally a second before my husband found out. So I picked up the phone and put it back down. I was stunned, almost like it didn’t happen. And then my husband heard the news, and he laid on the floor and started crying," he recalled.
In response to the interviewer noting the "big deal" it is for an openly gay actor to be nominated, Colman replied, "It’s exciting to me, too, because I know that this is history-making, in many ways. And I’m glad people could see the craftsmanship and see the work ethic and see the work in it. I’m overwhelmed in so many ways. But the most extraordinary way, for me, is I love that the more people know my name, the more they know Bayard Rustin’s name."
In the same interview, Colman praised fellow nominee Bradley Cooper's work in Maestro — where he played Leonard Bernstein, a queer composer. "He feels like a brother to me in this industry already," Colman said. "We were leaving it all on the floor, we believed and respected the work and the characters and the story so deeply."
“I know I’m existing in spaces that are unique in many ways,” Colman said in a separate interview to Deadline. “At the same time I was representing Rustin, I’m also playing the leading man in The Color Purple, who has a very different experience. The way I’ve been able to see myself in this industry is that I can play anything, and it’s not limited by my own personal sexuality. People see me as I see myself, and being able to flex all these muscles and play all these different types of men, with very different experiences, hopefully moves the needle a bit more."
As others have noted, the fact that Colman is the second openly gay man to be nominated for playing a gay role is especially relevant given how often straight male actors have been awarded for playing LGBTQ characters. Just last year, Brendan Fraser won for playing a gay man in The Whale.
Other examples from this century include Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk, Jared Leto as a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Indeed, around 14 male actors have been nominated for playing LGBTQ characters since the turn of the century — with Colman being the only one to openly identify as gay.
A notable snub from this year was Andrew Scott in All of Us Strangers, leading writer Marcus Wratten to ask, "Was the queer quota for the year already filled?"
Over in the Best Actress category, the first queer woman to have been nominated for playing a queer character was Marlene Dietrich in 1931. Being openly "out" wasn't an option at the time, but her sexuality was described as an "open secret." According to Autostraddle in 2022, at least "20 straight cisgender women [have been] nominated for playing lesbian, queer, or bisexual roles, two of whom were nominated twice for doing so."
As for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Jodie Foster received a nomination this year for playing Bonnie Stoll in Nyad. As Variety notes, this makes 2024, "the first time two openly LGBTQ actors have been nominated for playing LGBTQ characters."
And in Best Actress, Lily Gladstone has made history as the first Native American to be nominated for the award. The actor uses she/they pronouns, as they have noted, "my pronoun use is partly a way of decolonizing gender for myself."
You can read more about this year's Oscar nominations here.